Downton Astra (This Week’s Movies)


Brad Pitt: Ad Astra (Twentieth Century Fox)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald, and etc.

Ad Astra. “The way the film plugs in its science-fiction elements willy nilly, without particularly caring about them, is an issue.”

Downton Abbey. “Nostalgic nonsense of the most shameless kind, a gushing mash note to the British upper class.”

The Sound of Silence. “A major co-star is the sound design, which, fittingly enough, tends to sound like a comforting blanket of white noise.”

No Seasoned Ticket entry for the Scarecrow blog this week, but I’ll be at Scarecrow Video Wednesday night for a free Scarecrow Academy session at 7. The 1959 film under scrutiny: Pillow Talk.


Movie Diary 9/17/2019

Judy (Rupert Goold, 2019). It’s Renée Zellweger (the credits insist on the accent mark) as Judy Garland, in a movie that focuses on Garland’s troubled run at London’s Talk of the Town club, a few months before her death in 1969. The movie’s at its best when it suggests (or maybe I’m seeing what I want to see) that genius sets its own terms, with commensurate rewards and punishments. That may be an easy conclusion, but when you’re talking about Garland, it makes sense.

Movie Diary 9/16/2019

The Mind Benders (Basil Deardon, 1963). Some very weird ideas loose in this UK project. Dirk Bogarde is part of a research team working in sensory-deprivation stuff, complete with water tanks. Did a colleague commit treason, or did the tank work lead to some sort of … brainwashing? Somehow this ends up with Bogarde himself being auto-suggested to turn against his wife (Mary Ure, faraway and interesting); the experiment works all too well. The deprivation scenes get into horror-movie territory (evocatively shot by Denys Coop), and the climax brings a pregnancy rather strangely to a conclusion. Some of the material, like the wife’s memories of being humiliated by Bogarde’s cruelty, open up issues that the film isn’t able to explore, or contain.

Movie Diary 9/15/2019

Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019). The people who are saying that James Gray is getting his Terrence Malick on are not incorrect. Ohhhh boy. (full review 9/19)

Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975). A good one from Argento, with all the cool design stuff and a somewhat coherent (if not always especially well-motivated) scenario. The music from Goblin is on point. The imagination – visual and sonic – on display here is formidable; it makes me wonder what would’ve happened if Argento had focused all that on a more conventional story. But maybe that’s completely beside the point.

Official Gold Aqua (This Weeks’ Movies)


Keira Knightley: Official Secrets (IFC Films)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald, and etc.

The Goldfinch. “Somehow the deep thoughts on the immortality of art don’t sit well with gunplay that seems to have crept in from a so-so NCIS episode.”

Official Secrets. “Does a clean, devastating job of laying out the ways that, as the central character puts it, “we were lied into an illegal war.””

Aquarela. “Not only are the super-high-definition visuals completely spellbinding to watch, the soundtrack is astonishing.” (For the Scarecrow Video blog.)



Movie Diary 9/11/2019

Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959). Sirk working at full capacity here, in plush color-coordinated imagery. It’s not that Sirk is subverting the melodrama so much as using it to examine the fault lines in these lives, and the artificiality of the acting style fits in perfectly. Many frameable shots in this thing, but the one that got me this time was the one from the revolving stage, as we follow newly-minted showgirl Susan Kohner from her fairly unconvincing onstage persona to the more earthbound backstage reality.

Movie Diary 9/10/2019

Lilith (Robert Rossen, 1964). It surely is one of the most interesting films of its moment – interesting in large part because it exists at all, in the way it exists. This was Rossen’s next film after The Hustler, and his last. To say that he was trying out some new things is an understatement; this thing is arty like nobody’s business, a wildly clumsy but sincere attempt to get in on all this stuff the Europeans are doing. Warren Beatty apparently pressed to cut a lot of his dialogue, and I don’t think this works; there are too many moments where his character (a vaguely troubled military veteran) just sits there cocking his head at the other person in the conversation. Maybe Steve McQueen would’ve brought enough internal roil to make those kinds of moments live, but Beatty doesn’t. Jean Seberg is effectively brittle as the psychiatric patient he assists and falls for, and Kim Hunter has an almost eerie stillness as a hospital administrator. Peter Fonda is a patient infatuated with Seberg, and his talkativeness is closer to the way the actor was in real life than the taciturn dudes he often played. The film is compositionally dynamic (shot by Eugene Shüfftan), often puzzling, sometimes obvious. It builds to an unexpectedly moving final moment.